July 23, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Yesterday, Chapelboro.com, a website affiliated with Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s WCHL radio station, reported that the University of North Carolina School of Government has released a report concluding that the passage of Amendment One, which modified the state constitution to recognize marriage between men and women as the only “domestic legal union,” does not mean municipalities cannot provide domestic partnership benefits.
The report, authored by Associate Professor Diane Juffras, argues that the amendment’s wording prohibits the recognition of gay and lesbian couples, but makes the case that providing benefits does not constitutite recognition per se. Says Juffras:
“There is no legal precedent in our states law or in any states law for the idea that for a government employer to offer domestic partner benefits gives legal recognition to a union; and more importantly, does what the point of legal recognition is confer rights and responsibilities on a couple under the law.”
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says the UNC report lays the groundwork for a strong legal argument should any litigation against the amendment (or against employers who decide to offer domestic partnership benefits) arise in the courts. The city has no plan to stop offering the domestic partnership benefits it provides its municipal employees.
Amendment One was always headed towards the courts, since its poor, overly-broad wording opened up a host of legal questions about the truth breadth of the amendment and its effect on pre-existing relationship rights for gay and lesbian North Carolinians. In the past, courts have been averse to the idea of taking rights away from groups that already enjoy them. But in North Carolina, the battle over that very question continues.